April 12, 2010, 11:42 AM — This interview is part of ITworld's regular "How I Got Here" series which focuses on the career path of successful IT professionals.
Rick Treese, Chief Technology Officer at TheMarkets.com, didn't always know he would combine his interests in technology and finance. In high school at the well-known High School of Performing Arts, on which the motion picture Fame was based, Rick's main interest was music. But it turned out that Rick was as fascinated with finance and banking as he was with music, and went to work for Goldman Sachs after college.
The combination of IT and finance proved to be a worthwhile interest for Rick, who made big changes at Goldman and saved the equity research division quite a lot of time with his innovations. Now as CTO at TheMarkets.com, Rick continues to enjoy his main interests -- and has never abandoned his interest in music, and continues to play music in a local wedding band.
What is TheMarkets.com?
We're a financial web service provider, and we deal mainly in the institutional space as far as who our clients are, and we're owned by all the big brokers. But our primary product is an equity research delivery product which is web based, and we also have some back-end ways we deliver content as well. We also have a broker vote product, where brokers get voted on by their clients, and an analytics product.
Where did you get your degree?
My degree is in banking and finance from Hofstra University.
What was the college experience like for you?
I've been a computer guy since I was a kid. My motivation in choosing finance was to combine my computer experience with something that would be useful to somebody. Finance was the thing of the ‘80s, so that's what I went for.
Any particularly interesting college projects?
I was usually the guy helping people with their computer homework, because we did take computer classes in finance. And I usually got the worst scores, however that worked out. At the time, I was a Macintosh snob, and the only guy on campus with the Mac Plus with the built-in screen and a 40 megabyte hard drive that was about the size of a table. With that tool I put together some great papers, and became kind of a layout expert and desktop publishing expert.
What about before college?
I was still the computer guy, but I was also a musician. I went to the High School of Performing Arts, the "Fame" school, so my focus was definitely on music at the time.
Did you want to be a musician at that time?
Absolutely. And through college, as well. But the great thing about high school was that because it was performing arts, they had an entire electronic music program, which allowed me to marry that computer side of me with my musical side. So that was a great time. The best time of my life.
What was your first job right out of college?
My first job was at Goldman Sachs. I started out as a help desk guy, answering help desk calls. It was just a one-man help desk, just me and my boss, supporting the entire equity research division, which was about 200 people at the time. They had a whole process in the morning where they produced the morning calls, which is timely research that needed to go out immediately. That entire process was run by "sneakernet," people with floppy disks running around. What I would do is, at 5:00, I would shut off my phone, and start developing a product which was meant for this research delivery, and I would work until 3:00 in the morning every day. My friends thought I was crazy, but I was loving it. It was a great creative outlet. After about a year I had something releasable. I went to my boss, and I was lucky to have a boss that was flexible enough to allow me to do this, and after demonstrating it to him, we put it on desktops. The average time to get a document processed before the software went into place was close to two hours, and by the time the software was done, it was probably like 15 to 20 minutes.
That was a major accomplishment.
There were times when documents would just float through the system within minutes, and that's because of the complex notification scheme that I had built. I self-developed my way into a development role. During that time, I had been on the help desk, but morphed into an operational role. Once the system got into place, I got called in by the partner who ran the equity research division, and he said he wanted to give me my own team, and move me into a role to run all of the software development. By the time I left in 2000, about eight years later, I had a team of 20 people developing software of all types.
Where did you go after Goldman?
Just like everybody in 2000, I heard the lure of the dotcom dream. But I wasn't going to just hop onto any dotcom. There was a dotcom that was being started by a big publishing company, Advanstar. The good news was that they had assets, they had money behind it. This wasn't some investor-funded, we-hope-this-works-and-maybe-we'll-get-a-valuation type of dotcom. This was a real business. So I was the CTO of that dotcom. But then like everyone who had built out a dotcom at the time, Advanstar decided that it didn't make sense to run this as a separate business any more, and they folded it into Advanstar. At that time they made me CTO of all of Advanstar.
How long were you at Advanstar?
That was about eight years, and I left in 2009.
Then you went to TheMarkets.com, how did that transition happen?
The CEO of Advanstar.com, who had left Advanstar shortly after the dotcom went away, became the CFO of TheMarkets. When they were doing a CTO search, he gave me a call, and it sounded tremendously appealing. I felt like my time at Advanstar had been filled with great accomplishments, and I had done what I needed to do, so it seemed like the right thing.
What's your favorite part of your current position as CTO of TheMarkets?
Just like every move I made through my career, it's all about building, and the fun of creating something new. There was a time at Advanstar where we were building a ticketing system, where people went online and purchased tickets to this set of motorcycle shows. I would send developers to the shows to actually watch on-site as ticket holders went to get their tickets scanned, which was software that these developers had built, to actually watch these customers. I would say to them, that this is the closest you will ever come to actually touching the customer that you impacted with your work. For the technology person, that's kind of tough. But for me, it's those moments, when you actually get to see the results of your work and to experience that customer involvement.
Is your current role more strategic, or are you still involved in hands-on development at all?
If I had a choice, I would develop all day. I'm a developer at heart. But at this stage, I'm not doing much development. It took a long time to actually release the reins on that, because I always had to have a hand in it. It used to frustrate many of the developers at Goldman, I'm sure.
What's your least favorite part of the job?
I'm sure this is a common answer -- politics. My approach always was, if you do your job well, then you should do okay. But that's not always the case. So you do have to learn to handle people and situations and it's a skill you develop only through a lot of experience, and watching other people go through it as well.
For someone getting out of college right now, what would be your career advice?
I would say two things. One is to forget about technology and learn about people. Because at the end of the day, the technology is very easy to learn. But if you can combine that with good people skills, then you're making a difference between you and the next technology guy. Number two would be, always be willing to do that extra bit of work. It's not a matter of doing just what someone is telling you to do, but it's stepping back and saying, if this were my baby, how would I want it to look? And again, that separates you from the guy in the next cube.
You co-wrote a book, titled "Inside the Minds: CTO Leadership Strategies." Is publishing a management book like that a helpful thing in achieving a C-level position?
I was already at C-level when that was produced, but had I already done it, if there was a new role at a new company, then that would certainly help. If you're trying to work yourself up in an existing company, that probably wouldn't make a huge difference.
What's the book about?
It's a compendium of Chief Technology Officers giving their take on how you lead a technology effort most effectively. And it's chock full of great tips, and if you read through the entire thing you can pull out some great stuff.
How would you characterize the financial services market today for a job seeker? There's been a lot of shakeup in the economy and in that industry in particular, is that still a good job market?
On the technology side, I don't think it's ever been a bad job market. The demand for technology people has always been there, and it has certainly spiked up. We are fortunate to have always been hiring over the past two years. Competition for great candidates is as high as I've ever seen it.
In financial services, people usually think of traders on the floor, waving their arms in the air, but the people who make the real difference are behind the scenes -- the developers, quants, and programmers. How would you characterize how the financial market in research has changed, to become more tech-intensive over the past few years?
A technology advantage can only take you so far, before your competitor figures it out and does it for themselves. So I would almost say that it's not so much the technology side, but the content side. It's what kind of content you are publishing, how much more do you know than the next guy, and what can you do with that knowledge that's going to allow you to act faster than somebody else. And that's where the technology comes into play.
What is the next wave of technology in financial services?
It's probably going to be the joining of multiple data sources into single consumable threads. So as opposed to having 18 services on your desktop and you have to work with them all, it's one place where you get everything you need easily.